Friday, February 15, 2013

Is Ethiopia the new geothermal energy hotspot?

The World Bank recently granted $40 million USD to Ethiopia in order to spur renewable energy projects. For geothermal projects now under way, that money is being used mainly for exploration -- if it shows promise, private investors will be invited to develop geothermal facilities. Success could lead to more grants from the World Bank.

Only about 20 percent of the population of Ethiopia has access to electricity.
 
It’s not that Ethiopia is particularly low on energy -- in fact, the country is an energy exporter thanks to its smart investments in hydroelectric power over the past several years. The real challenge involves expanding infrastructure so that the spoils of Ethiopia’s rapidly growing economy can reach the far-flung regions that were left behind while urban areas -- especially the capital, Addis Ababa -- have thrived.

Ethiopia is situated along the East African Rift, a zone of high tectonic activity where the African Plate is in the slow process of splitting into two. The long East African Rift Valley, which runs from Jordan down to Mozambique, is visible evidence of this split. So are the numerous volcanoes in the region, including the famous Mount Kilimanjaro -- technically a dormant volcano -- in northern Tanzania.

The region is a prime location for massive geothermal energy -- and Ethiopia has a precedent right next door. Kenya has found great success with its own geothermal projects -- it is the biggest geothermal producer on the continent with an installed capacity of more than 212 megawatts, according to Bloomberg.

Ethiopia will follow suit with help from the World Bank and the African Development Bank, which are working together to boost geothermal research and production all across the East African Rift Valley.
 
Renewable energy in particular is an arena where sub-Saharan African countries have a chance to shine. Widespread underdevelopment gives the region a paradoxical advantage, since alternative energy initiatives can start from scratch in many cases, skipping the retrofitting that industrialized states will have to undergo in order to modernize.

Sources: International Business Times, Bloomberg, World Bank

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